*Sorry this is RIDICULOUSLY late. The day after travel is always slow, but today is exceptionally so, probably because we did a fast “cannon ball run” back home, leaving very early and arriving very late and forgetting to eat in between, and then arrived to Havelock-cat hygiene issues that HAD to be fixed before going to bed. We’re all well. Well, the constitutional republic is looking like it might die, of course, but the close family is okay. And the republic…. if it dies, doesn’t mean we stop fighting. On the contrary. So, bear with me today and tomorrow, and then we should be back on track-ish – Sarah*
*Note these are books sent to us by readers/frequenters of this blog. Our bringing them to your attention does not imply that we’ve read them and/or endorse them, unless we specifically say so. As with all such purchases, we recommend you download a sample and make sure it’s to your taste. If you wish to send us books for next week’s promo, please email to bookpimping at outlook dot com. If you feel a need to re-promo the same book do so no more than once every six months (unless you’re me or my relative. Deal.) One book per author per week. Amazon links only. Oh, yeah, by clicking through and buying (anything, actually) through one of the links below, you will at no cost to you be giving a portion of your purchase to support ATH through our associates number. I ALSO WISH TO REMIND OUR READERS THAT IF THEY WANT TO TIP THE BLOGGER WITHOUT SPENDING EXTRA MONEY, CLICKING TO AMAZON THROUGH ONE OF THE BOOK LINKS ON THE RIGHT, WILL GIVE US SOME AMOUNT OF MONEY FOR PURCHASES MADE IN THE NEXT 24HOURS, OR UNTIL YOU CLICK ANOTHER ASSOCIATE’S LINK. PLEASE CONSIDER CLICKING THROUGH ONE OF THOSE LINKS BEFORE SEARCHING FOR THAT SHED, BIG SCREEN TV, GAMING COMPUTER OR CONSERVATORY YOU WISH TO BUY. That helps defray my time cost of about 2 hours a day on the blog, time probably better spent on fiction. ;)*
FROM MEL DUNAY: Shadow Captain (Star Master Book 1)
His one chance to escape slavery could trap his brother in a terrible fate!
Jetay has been on the run with his brother for a long time, hiding his psychic powers from the evil Red Knights. Living as a slave on a star freighter, Jetay dreams of freeing himself and his brother, and of wielding his powers openly.
On a frontier planet, Lady Lanati of the Partisan Alliance seeks his help for a secret mission. It will take him across the stars to the edge of a black hole, with a Red Knight chasing him every step of the way. He might finally get a chance to use his powers for good.
But the price of that chance may be too high, putting his brother in grave danger. Can Jetay save himself and his brother without sacrificing Lanati and her friends? If he can’t find a way to save them all, the battle against evil may be over before it begins….
FROM MARY CATELLI: Through A Mirror, Darkly
What lies behind a reflection? Powers have filled the world with both heroes and villains. Helen, despite her own powers, had acquired the name Sanddollar but stayed out of the fights. When the enigmatic chess masters create a mirrored world reflecting her own home and the world about it, it’s not so easy to escape. All the more in that the people of that world are a dark reflection of all those she knows.
AND DON’T FORGET, MY BOOKS ARE ON SALE TILL TUESDAY FOR 99C. (WELL, ALL THOSE I HAVE CONTROL OF. MORE OF THEM NEXT YEAR. I WAS TOLD ONE OF THE LINKS DOESN’T WORK, BUT SINCE I WAS TRAVELING, I COULDN’T FIX IT. IF YOU SEARCH THE BOOK’S NAME, IT SHOULD COME UP ANYWAY: SO HERE’S THE LINK TO THE POST WITH ALL THE BOOKS.
Vignettes by Luke, Mary Catelli and ‘Nother Mike.
So what’s a vignette? You might know them as flash fiction, or even just sketches. We will provide a prompt each Sunday that you can use directly (including it in your work) or just as an inspiration. You, in turn, will write about 50 words (yes, we are going for short shorts! Not even a Drabble 100 words, just half that!). Then post it! For an additional challenge, you can aim to make it exactly 50 words, if you like.
We recommend that if you have an original vignette, you post that as a new reply. If you are commenting on someone’s vignette, then post that as a reply to the vignette. Comments — this is writing practice, so comments should be aimed at helping someone be a better writer, not at crushing them. And since these are likely to be drafts, don’t jump up and down too hard on typos and grammar.
If you have questions, feel free to ask.
Your writing prompt this week is: BRANCH
45 thoughts on “Vignettes by Luke, Mary Catelli and ‘Nother Mike and Book Promo”
For giraffes, Acacia branches are Barbwire skewers according to this guy.
“Let’s see, your last stunt was to convince Fred to cut through a branch that he was sitting with him on the wrong side of the cut. No wonder the Press calls you the Good Idea Fairy”.
“Well, I thought it funny. Does that help my case?”
“No. I sentence you to life in a pocket dimension where you will be the only person hurt by your Good Ideas”.
Wyatt Opps asked his faithful indigenous sidekick, Toronto; “Hey whatfo you sitting up in the tree out on that limb?”
Toronto replied; “UGH.”, which translated from his naive tongue means hey, you told me to!
Opps sighed and said; “I told you go back to the ranch, not the branch.”
A long branch reached over the grass. Perfectly white roses bloomed on it. Even the ones that lost their petals were perfectly snow white, not dingy.
That could not have been cheap. Madame Nyx would have paid well for knowledge of such a garden.
She turned her face away, sharply.
Barkeep, I’ll have your whiskey with a DROP of branch water.
Tell me, please, why you are running power, voice, and data cables out to the – structure – on the limb of that tree. In fact, if it were less overbuilt, I would probably just call it a treehouse.
“Well, Boss, I heard you mention the possibillty of opening a branch office . . .”
The term “satellite office” comes to mind, with curiosity.
The branches started to pass overhead, hiding the stars from view. He could not turn his head to see how the tree trunks hid them from view, but with each step the dogmen had gotten him farther from anyone who could rescue him.
He wished he could struggle. Or scream.
“This is a branch of Ovkara, the Tree of Bounty, kept alive for nigh on a century now by the sacred waters of Dor,” the old witch said. She threw it into the bonfire.
Custard cried out. She started to leap forward, and found herself frozen by Yurbolrild’s icy blue eyes.
“Now, now,” Yurbolrild chided. “You should expect more subtlety from the old and the gray. Ovkara grew from a branch of Cinavita, the Phoenix Tree.” She blinked, and Custard staggered.
Released from the geas, Custard stood watching. Watching open-mouthed as a tree of green and gold grew from the flames with unnatural speed.
No shit, this happened:
Friend of mine: “That big branch over the roof worries me.”
Me: “Okay, I can cut it down.”
Friend: “You can use my ex-husband’s chainsaw.”
Me, 10 minutes later: “This thing is barely cutting. I’ve never seen a chainsaw this dull.”
Me, 15 minutes later: “Wait a minute, the damn chain’s on backward! No wonder it’s F’d!”
Me, 20 minutes later: “That’s got it. Tell me, did your ex ever actually use this chainsaw?”
Friend: “He used it a few times.”
Me: “I begin to see why he’s your EX-husband.”
Geez, how many idiots are there that can use a chainsaw with the chain on backward, and not notice!?
You’d be amazed! They are in the same class as the guy who had to have how vice-grip pliers work explained to him.
That’s not so unreasonable. Nobody’s born knowing how vise-grips work. I’m sure somebody had to show me, only it was so long ago I don’t remember.
I’ve known contractors who could not read a tape measure.
I knew a guy (pro football player’s son) who choked up on a hammer and literally just punched nails into the wood . . . same guy who once threatened me with “I’m bigger than you, I’ll hurt you.” I stuck a bicycle fork, (yes, he threatened physical violence on someone holding a Ross Mt Hood fork in his hand) tines up, into his throat and said “I’m smarter than you, if you’re lucky, you will hurt much longer.”
Tara wanted to avoid Roger’s gaze, but she knew how important it could be to look someone in the eye. “You’re not going to send me back, are you?”
He looked at her, and just when she was sure he was about to scold her, his lips curled upward into a smile. “I suppose I could, but there’s a technical problem. The very act of entering a timeline causes it to branch into one in which you arrive and one in which you never went.”
The branches were not pruned. Every single one bent back and wound about the trellis whenever it would have protruded.
Ava sighed. A gardener’s child would know how before he learned his letters. She wondered if she would ever learn. It would be a lady’s idle hobby, if she did.
No branches, but:
The time travel agency seamstress
er… was that mine?
I suggested it to you, but I wasn’t even sure that had a working email address, so I just decided to throw it here. Hope that’s okay!
LOL. I used it recently, but not sure if in something that was published.
I have the most bizarre and faded memory….. 😀
I think “To Say Nothingbof the Dog” by Connie Willis had this.
Meh, I know I used it recently.
The stream was broader than it looked at first. Soon other branches joined it, and the water widened. It looked serene and easy, but the more streams joined, the faster the current bore their boat onward. Fish swam, dark shadows in shoals, under them and their wake. Branches cast shade.
“You cannot create a branch in the timeline.” Victor explained to the new recruits. “I know you think you can but time resists being changed — sometimes in a lethal fashion.. It is like a glass rod that can be bent a little but any alterations will only affect the timeline until the next pinning event. It is the difference between Fate and Destiny.”
Did it snow on your side of the branch? ‘Cause it did where we were! Just a flurry, but hey.
~ came out 100 words, but here it is:
There were advantages and disadvantages to Alex’s new state of being. The advantages were things like lightspeed travel, easily outpacing his old properly embodied friends. The disadvantages were not being able to down an asprin when living the dilemmas of philosophy class. Alex branched: One of him, provided the signal wasn’t garbled in transit, would appear in the Alpha Centauri base dish in 5 years. Apparently the coin flip came up tails again, because subjectively, he was still stuck on Luna. If he kept asking for it, then, statistically, *theoretically*, he would be off on an adventure eventually. But at least one of him would always be left scowling at the Sol transmitter.
“You mundanes — dear Lord and Lady,” — and Ishihara shook her head so its soot-black curls bounced and bobbed — “but you take the long way around to your own back door! Possibly crossing the Continental Divide twice on the way. What’s the least change — I suppose it would be counted in terms of this ‘Hamming distance’ of yours, the number of bits flipped — that would do all you need to do, let you ‘insert’ the rest of your code and go from there? Maybe that single ‘Do Not Execute’ bit you mentioned…” (and her eyes searched the table with its many papers and listings and maps of memory) “here?”
It took a moment for my mind to analyze that, such things were very close to inaccessible, and thus not often contemplated. “No, the rest of the OS would likely…” And she was already shaking her head again (still looking very much more North European than Japanese), “Okay, so how about this ‘branch’ instruction you mentioned, that’s ‘conditional’ instead of ‘unconditional’… if it were ‘always taken’ not taken ‘when zero’ — would that do the trick?” And her finger touched an instruction’s hex and mnemonic on one line of the many dense pages spread out before us. (So easy to read, so hard to write…)
“Yes, I said that a few… hours ago.” (Not begrudgingly at all, it’d taken me months to get this far, to find her and the Fox and Pixel itself, surely one of the oddest hacker bars I’d ever seen in my life). “Once this test is disabled, one line of attack I’ve already been using will simply… work. The problem is, of course, how to make the change, though at least this code isn’t going to be subject to checksumming like the page-property tables.”
“Like you said, there are soft errors and hard errors. This one will be more like an… Od error.” (She sounded like she’d made a joke, but if so I missed it.) “Or let’s simply call it a, hm, fate-ful error. But a very convenient one, for you though not for them.” And then peered, far less intensely, at the listing. “So that would be only one instruction to change, right? 16 or 32 bits at most?”
“Oh, even less, a branch condition is encoded in only four or five bits. Not all of them would need to flip, either…”
And then I realized, really knew, what she’d just said. “But that would be…”
And Ishihara smiled like a winter twilight and dawn unfolding in an instant, and said in polite but instant and insistent interruption, “Magic?” And slowly lifted one onyx eyebrow, just like a certain Science Officer on a certain TV show.
And reached (with me still a little speechless, I’d understood of course but not yet really understood, before) for the three lines of Older Futhark rune stones (or rune-coins cut from a walnut branch, she’d said, each rune dyed red in her own blood, though gotten “the easy way” whatever that meant), eight to each row. And she separated one row with the edge of her hand, making a matrix of sixteen runes underneath a line of eight.
“Hex code,” she said, as if she’d just made the slyest low pun ever. “And since these past few hours I’ve been reading your orlog, your fate, and seeing how it aligns with the greater fates of others… I might just do this for the price of the time and insight you’ve given me into your arcane and mystic world of code and execution and machinery. And for the foxing and confusion this will quite surely bring to the New Regime of course. And, for myself, one real date in the place you find most congenial and respectful.”
My mind (since it belongs to the utter geek I am) couldn’t help flashing back to the end of that movie, “Sneakers” — where the girl with the gun says, “Hey, wait, you can have anything you ask and all you want is my phone number..?”
And I pointed to myself. “Malcolm Fraser, remember? And our clan motto, in Old French, is ‘je suis prest’ — I’m ready. Says so in all the books.”
And Ishihara smiled quick at me, all over again, like a sunrise. “Just what I like to hear, me and friends like Lord Frey and Lady Freyja and the Three Ladies of the Well… a worthy man is a blessing to behold.”
Blanche sat on a branch reading a tranche of emails about the ranch. The branch hung over a branch of a stream on the ranch.She slipped off her seat and landed real neat in the branch stream of the ranch stream. Then she woke up and saw it was a bad dream.
The office I was in had a VPN connection to the company’s secured network. That was fine most of the time; but updating the VPN password or certain security updates, we needed to visit the local Branch Office about a mile away. There, in a back room, there were a couple of secure network ports we or the break/fix team could use to connect to the secure servers.
It was just another Wednesday when my laptop hit a snag and I needed to visit the branch. Seemed routine enough until I got into the back room, plugged in, and noticed the smell. Blood. That sickly-sweet odor of decay. And then I saw a foot protruding from a cubicle on the other side of the room.
While I debated running out or simply calling the police, the door opened and three of the tellers flounced in, talking about their weekend plan, heading for the coat rack in the back. They saw it before I could warn them. Looked around in panic, stared at me accusingly, and as one bolted from the room screaming…
I always do overthink things.
I stood rigidly at attention. That might not help me, but it couldn’t hurt. “Reporting as ordered, sir!”
Colonel Fraser looked irate, frustrated and a bit bewildered. I knew why, and my report was not going to improve his mood. “Tell me you’ve got better news than the last idiot that had your job.”
I couldn’t fidget, no matter how much I wanted to. “Sir…you have to understand, they’re not human. They don’t see things the way we do, and—“
“You’re starting to sound just like him.” There was a warning tone in his voice.
Fine. All he could do was fire me, too. “That’s because he was right. I can’t get the results you want. Nobody can.”
I broke from attention just enough to fish a copy of the infamous memo out of the folder I held and drop it on his desk. “This is the truth, and it won’t change no matter how many people you fire for telling you.”
He didn’t take his eyes off me. He didn’t have to. We both knew what it said.
McNulty’s Rules For Dealing With Elves
Rule 1: You can’t rush an elf.
Rule 2: Standardization is for humans.
Summary: You can tell elves that you don’t want each magical weapon to be an individual work of art, with unique powers and properties, but they won’t listen.
Conclusion: These weapons can give us overwhelming advantages, but they can’t be mass-produced. Each soldier will have to be individually trained to use one. The Army has to adjust, because no human can out-stubborn an elf.
The Army should get dwarves for the Job. 😆
The new sub-lieutenant made his way along the dark cave, already wincing from the sounds from the forges. The other junior officers had warned him about these logistics order details into the fae lands, and he’d heard stories about the disaster that the trips to buy weapons from the elven houses had turned into, but he was a JO, so he didn’t really have a choice. Turning the last corner in the cave he came to a standard office desk, behind which a very attractive short woman was working on a laptop. She looked up at him when he stopped in front of her desk.
“Good morning,” he said after she just stared at him. “If this is the Smith’s Guild branch, I need to place an order.”
“What do you want?” she asked, looking him up and down and tilting her head to one side. Instead of reading from his list he simply handed over the paperwork that the log NCO had thrust into his hands as he was hustled through the portal.
“Hmm. Five thousand sets of human-sized magical armor plus fitting tools, one thousand war axes, one thousand war hammers, one thousand swords, a thousand bows with twenty thousand bodkin point arrows, all enchanted,” she read off the paperwork. “Bodkins. Let me check.” She clicked around on her laptop for a minute as he waited for the inevitable denial, or two-year delivery timeline, or crazy price, or something else that would force him to make a sweating apology for his failure in front of the Logistics Officer’s desk.
“Pick them up in four days at the lower warehouse, dearie. Your account balance already is enough to cover all of this from your overpayment on that last set of dragon-sized armor.” Looking up she noticed his shocked expression. “What’s wrong, sweetie? Oh, I bet you folks went to those idiot elves first with this, didn’t you?” She shook her head. “They may be all tall and Orlando Bloom-ey, but they can’t run a production line for crap.”
She scanned in his order sheet, printed off the invoice with the delivery details, stapled it to his paperwork, and then handed back his packet. After thanking her he turned to go. “Wait,” she said, and scribbled out something on a notepad and handed it to him. Looking at the paper he saw a phone number. “Make sure you tag along when you pick the order up and give me a call – I have a niece I want you to meet.”
BTW, I know Sub-Lieutenant is an RN rank, but I didn’t want to use US ranks and could not remember the ensign-rank-equivalent in the Brit Army – Sub-Altern maybe, or is that the equivalent of a midshipman?
I spotted a familiar profile, hunched over a mug at the bar, and took the next seat. The bartender was already drawing me a beer. “Why so down? I thought your division was doing great.”
“I’ve got a date with a dwarf tomorrow,” he said gloomily. “A really cute dwarf, who can break me in half if I piss her off. Not to mention causing an inter-species incident that could cut off our mithril supply. What’s up at your end?”
“I’m still stuck in elven weapon procurement. The brass ain’t happy, but they believed me when I told ‘em nobody else can do any better. Elves just don’t think like we do. And since deliveries are so slow, they decided I had plenty of time to help with the, ah, training issues.”
He perked up, just a little. “Really? I heard there were problems, but nobody wants to say what they are.”
The barkeep plunked my beer down in front of me, I flashed him an appreciative grin and took a big pull at it. “It’s all tied into the nature of elven weapons, and why we still want them in spite of what a pain they are. No two are alike, because the elves put so much of themselves into the work, and can’t bear to just do the exact same thing again. And so, they can’t just be handed out at random.”
I paused for another slug of beer. “We have to find a soldier who’s mystically and, I guess, temperamentally compatible with each one. The weapon has to accept him — or, her — if we want to get more than half-assed performance out of it. Usually we have to run through a few hundred before it finds somebody it’s happy with. Then it takes months of training to get them ready to deploy.”
He shook his head. “Too bad humans can’t do elf magic.”
I groaned. “A few can. It’s just that they don’t live long enough to learn to do anything useful with it. By the time they master a few beginner’s spells, they’re dying of old age. All the best elven smiths are more than two thousand years old.”
“So why bother with ‘em? Seems a waste.”
“That’s the problem; it’s worth it! One soldier properly ‘in tune’ with an elvensword is like a god of the battlefield. Worth a whole platoon armed with dwarven weapons. Of course, in the time it takes, we can arm two platoons…”
I finished my beer and waved for another one.
“Eh, you gotta consider the decision tree. There are places you can send a lone elf-armed soldier where two platoons can’t make it. Not too dificult a branch to decide, at that.”
“You really don’t want to track down that branch of the family.”
“Why not? What’s the harm?”
“Let’s just say there are reasons they left the country a hundred years ago.”
“Well, it’s not like any of the original people are involved. I mean, Gram and Gramps have been gone for 20 years and from what I can find, they were just born when everything went sideways. So, there’s not likely anybody in that branch still alive that was a part of everything.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t be so sure…”
They may not be “alive”.
They may be “undead”. 😈
“Whatta you want, friend?” The bartender leaned on the bar and looked at the old man that sat down.
“Bourbon and branch”, he replied.
The bartender held up a bottle of bourbon and the old man nodded. He poured a generous shot and put a splash of water in the glass, then pushed it across the bar. The old man took a sip and smacked his lips, a smile spreading across his face as the bartender asked, “Texan?”
Two months ago, November 3rd, 2020 – a date which will live in infamy – supporters of Donald Trump were systemically and maliciously defrauded of electoral victory by some combination of Democrats, domestic communists, Iran, and the People’s Republic of China.
Republicans had been at civil peace with the Democratic Party, and at the solicitation of various Democrat proxies like Black Lives Matter, had still been in conversation with left factions and leadership about policies necessary to the maintenance of domestic peace.
Indeed, before knowledge of the obvious nature of the fraud became widespread, the Democrats released messages of being willing to release some of the restrictions of the ‘Covid’ lockdowns.
(Interesting, how inspiration works… only a vague notion how to write the other vignette idea I had, until I read the above. Then it was nearly obvious.)
“It’s always been a weed, never any use ‘t all. But it didn’t used t’ be such a noxious one, almost used t’ be one you could live with, back in the days they was preaching ‘tolerance’ and ‘understanding’ and all. But now all they do is tell you what to do, what to say, what to think, and what they’ll do to you next if you don’t. Now, it’s just a poison noxious weed, that sickens all it touches and fouls the land it grows in. Got to go, now, be gone root and branch and all.”
The sign on the door — did not exist; but the sign by the stairs as you came in, coarsely and hastily embroidered in yarn for the new establishment, read:
Men have an unhealthy tendency to obey laws. — R.A.H.
This is Liberty Hall, you can spit on the mat and call the cat a bastard. (Be ready to clean up your own mess, and Miss Cat may take some offense.)
‘This’ wasn’t a speakeasy, wasn’t a legal bar (no such thing, here and now), not quite anything else that had ever been. But here it was, anyway — “Think of it as evolution in action.” And the other thing it was… was half-full.
For simply to walk in the door was an act of rebellion in itself, of assertion of rights and freedom, even if only a very small and relatively safe one. Which in turn meant that, truck driver or engineer, farmer or financier, longshoreman or lawyer, you would be in one of the most important ways among friends.
“Interesting thing, when you know you’re going to lose your business and all you put in to build it, and all your employees their jobs and livings too, if you follow the rules — then the only thing that might work, that has a ghost of a chance of holding on to any of it, is to… not follow them instead.”
The other, with her, grinned. “Like old Abe Lincoln said, a century and a half and more ago: ‘We must think anew, and act anew, and then we will save our country.’ Of course, Old Abe didn’t mind breaking a few eggs to make that omelet of his, so maybe we can be a little more… conservative, that way.”
The little sign stuck into the edge of the old bar mirror wasn’t bold or bright or done in fancy colors. But still made its point to any who looked.
Enter at your own risk
Be safe, be kind, be free.
“That’s one way of looking at it, sure enough, and it’s not wrong. But did you ever stop to think it might be about the best way to get us Americans to be thinking about our rights and duties, about our Constitution, and then about what we ought to do — not ‘they’ or ‘someone’ but us, ourselves — about it?
“Or to show us what the alternative is really like, even if it’s simply by shoving that in all our faces, good and hard, as if to demand we pick one to keep?”
In the way of things that ebb and flow, like tides and rain and talking, there came a point where the buzz and rumble of speech faded to nothing.
And in that silence there was a man sitting alone at the bar, looking at the yellow contents of his glass as if the secret of life might be found there. And then he said a few words into that silence, not even quite new ones:
“When all this is done, Woker-speak will be a language heard only in Hell.”
And the silence that continued was broken only by a pattering sound, like sleet on a window (but louder) or hail on a roof, as one by one by one the empty glasses set down on to the table or the bar in front of person after person.
Some vows are sealed in sweat, some in blood, some in spit on clasped hands. But some of the strongest and most enduring are made through the treacherous but potent medium of the purified Water of Life.
And the men and women of Heinlein’s Hideaway were not alone that night. As if there had been a voice, whispering softly but insistently on all the winds:
Build back bolder, turn back tyranny, let freedom ring.
(Note: quoted Australianism courtesy of A. Bertram Chandler, merchant sea captain and science-fiction author. Heinlein quote from Number of the Beast / Pursuit of the Pankera, Ch. 9, with above “Men” = “Most males” there. Also a line from “Oath of Fealty” by Niven & Pournelle.)
One of my fears is that, within a couple of months, we’ll all be Branch Davidians.
They don’t have the resources for that.
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